I was on a plane flying home from Sydney.
All settled into my window seat and engaged in the mandatory nonchalant flipping through of the flight magazine whist actually intently listening to what everyone else is up to.
This was a smaller prop aircraft and everyone was pretty much seated now, the last few stragglers scuffling in and flopping into their seats.
I usually love flying in these smaller planes. They cruise at a much lower altitude and if you snag a window seat, you can enjoy the scenery passing by below. It was just on dusk so it promised to be a beautiful flight.
And then he boarded.
I heard him from way behind me.
An apologising fluster of luggage and shuffling paper sounds approaching from the rear entry stairs.
I shall call him Mr Vicks, for reasons that will soon be self-evident.
From the moment I heard him I intuited with utter certainty that he would be sitting next to me. He came up to my empty aisle seat, checking his ticket against the seat number. Mr Vicks looked a bit like Jude Law, dressed in an expensive looking light grey suit.
After a brief standing hi, Mr Vicks proceeded to unpack one of the two black leather carry-on bags that he had sat down in the isle.
Like a set of Russian Dolls, more bags were extracted from within the first one, and these were placed in a pile on the seat beside me.
Followed by a set of headphones.
And after a considerable rummaging, an iPhone.
Then, all but one of the smaller bags were collected up and skiffed into the overhead luggage bin. The larger bags were pushed forcibly into what must have been the some tiny space. It looked to me like he just pushed them out through the fuselage.
Everyone was now waiting for Mr Vicks.
Headphones placed in suit jacket pocket. Jacket off. Hang jacket over seat in front, to the obvious annoyance of its occupant.
Next, a cardboard manila folder was produced. It struggled to contain a thick pile of what I would later peek to see were job applications. They spilled onto the seat. Mr Vicks leant out over me to scoop them up.
Good grief, I thought.
The flight attendant moved in and assisted where possible with an icy smile.
Finally Mr Vicks settles into his seat. We taxi out onto the runways. And wait our turn to take off.
Mr Vicks now lifts the remaining leather bag onto his lap. It looks like a small black toiletries bag with a single zip across the top.
From inside he produces a bottle of decongestant nasal spray, clears his throat and squirts two atomised clouds into each nostril.
After much wet sniffing and coughing, he pulls some Kleenex tissues from his kit bag and gives a loud extended bubbly blow.
Totally satisfied, Mr Vicks then holds his work out like an open book before him and inspects it intently. Very intently.
I counted it through….
At this point my personal space had been degraded into a biohazard zone. If Mr Vicks was on the next flight he would still be too close.
Six Mississippi’s is way too long to stare into your mozzarella laden tissues on a tiny aircraft….and I tried not to look.
But it was like….right…there.
Despite herculean efforts not to, my eyeballs panned to the left. Screeching in their sockets like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Mr Vicks was tilting the wad gently from side to side. Perhaps trying to get the best effect from the overhead light. I swear there were sparkles.
Satisfied that all was as it should be, the tissues were stuffed into one of the aircraft sick bags.
My eyes flicked forwards, you know, just to make sure I had my own sick bag. This seemed suddenly important.
Next. Out of the bag came a Vicks nasal inhaler.
Two BIG long sniffs up each nostril, followed by some deep guttural hypopharyngeal snot clearing.
Out with another tissue.
Six Mississippi inspection.
Fingernails scraping deeply into my eye sockets…. I looked again.
Inhaler goes back into the bag.
Out comes another different spray. This time it was saline.
No doubt to soften up any last remaining tenacious tendrils of booger that may have resisted all efforts in being expunged thus far.
Four sprays either side. Big wet inspiratory snort.
Sounded like the last dregs of a chocolate milkshake being sucked up a straw.
Mr Vicks recovers the sick bag now puffed up with tissues from between us and deposits his last treasures.
His pre-flight airway management complete, sinuses as clear as the runway before us, Mr Vicks carefully packs away his kit bag and stows it down between his feet.
Turning to me for the first time, as if he has just this very moment sat down he beams, “Oh, how rude of me…..My Name is John. John Vicks”
And then Mr Vicks extends his hand to me enthusiastically…
Leaving me no choice but to offer up my hand for a limp, moist, sticky….. six Mississippi shake.